[Interview] Arina Tanemura, shoujo manga artist

Since her debut over 20 years ago with I.O.N., Arina Tanemura‘s name has been synonymous with shoujo manga. Her work, published primarily in Ribon magazine, is known for its elaborate linework and use of magical girls and idol singers. Her stories often touch on more mature themes such as mortality and trauma, while still remaining appealing and accessible to younger audiences. Two of these series, Phantom Thief Jeanne and Full Moon O Sagashite, have been adapted into anime.

In 2011, she broke off her relationship with Ribon to work as a freelance artist, allowing herself more creative freedom and standalone illustration work. She is also active in the doujinshi scene and frequently draws fanart of other series such as Sailor Moon and Cross Ange. AniFem staffer Caitlin Moore sat down with her at AnimeFest this past summer to talk about her past and current projects.

AF: How has shoujo manga changed since you started your career?

AT: When I first debuted, the shoujo manga that was popular at that time had a very soft and flowy type of artwork. When I debuted, my art… the line-forms were thicker, I guess harsher, and a bit harder and more solid looking style.

A teen boy wearing a headband and medieval fantasy clothing holds a teen girl in his arms and presses one of her hands to his cheek. The girl has long hair pulled back in a ponytailand is wearing fantastical clothes inspired by traditional Japanese dress. There are white-blue roses framing them, and a dark background that looks like a starry sky.
Phantom Thief Jeanne, and early Tanemura manga

AF: Has the process of making manga changed for you since you ended your exclusivity with Ribon?

AT: I feel more free at this point because I’m receiving more offers for work, not just with manga, but also for illustrations and character designs. I’m getting to do a wider variety of work.

AF: What messages do you hope to send to girls and young women with your stories?

AT: I don’t have a particular message that I want to convey to young women. I would like for everyone who read my works to feel a sense of personal enjoyment.

AF: What do you think are the unique strengths of shoujo manga compared to say, shounen or seinen or josei?

AT: The level of emotion that you’re able to express. The weaknesses are also the difference that you can show in different genres.

AF: How does editorial input affect your work? Do you have, say, strict editors?

AT: It’s not so much that I have strict or harsh editors. It’s more that they have unexpected input like, “I want this more adult-like, more womanly. Can we get more seductive?” I’m like, “Oh… okay… That’s different.” *laughs* I try to meet the expectations but there’s only so much I can do. I’ll reach to here and say, “Okay, that’s it, but I’ll try more if I can.”

AF: Idol Dreams is josei, right?

AT: Idol Dreams has a childlike transformation, but since they still want to be appealing to the older generation of fans they tried not to make it too childish, so it’ll be more seductive in that sense. But they also can’t have too many battle scenes because that’s not appealing to the girl side, so they try to make it more interesting and keep the clothes cute and fashionable and still engaging to the readers.

A young woman with short hair and glasses wearing a business suit looks surprised and leans sideways towards a teen girl with long hair wearing a ribbon tied into a bow around her neck and an outfit that looks like an idol version of a school uniform (button-up jacket and pleated skirt, but more flashy than a standard uniform). The girl is smiling. The woman and the girl are lightly touched their fingertips together. Flower petals and doily patterns fill the background.
Idol Dreams

AF: You have made a lot of manga about idol singers. What is it about idol singers that you find so compelling for manga, as opposed to other kinds of musicians?

AT: For idol singers, they’re really easy to draw because all they have is a mic, so they would just sing. *laughs* But I also have more freedom to design their costumes and their fashion, as opposed to other musicians who have to play instruments and do more stuff… They’re a bit too complicated. So I just wanted to draw idol singers.

AF: You’ve done doujinshi for Sailor Moon and Madoka Magica. What draws you to magical girl in particular?

AT: It’s always enjoyable to watch cute girls fight battle scenes and doing their best. Since I was young, that was my passion, shoujo girls and fighting and doing their best with what they have.

A sketch of a teenage girl with long hair wearing a sailor suit school uniform, gloves, and a tiara. Fans of Sailor Moon will recognize her as Michiru. She has a gentle expression and touches the back of one hand lightly to her own face.
Sailor Moon fanart

AF: You’ve also done fanart for Cross Ange, which is very different from the sort of stories that you tell. What about that series do you particularly enjoy?

AT: In the beginning, my editor and my staff were very into Gundam Seed and they wanted to create something similar to that, where they have a very strong, passionate protagonist but still a woman that can have those attributes and draw people in. Also, including this, they wanted to do something that can draw people in, really pull them into the story and have them wonder, “What’s happening next? What’s happening next?” That kind of potential story.

AF: Many of your side projects and doujinshi have all male casts. Have you thought about making a manga with all male protagonists? Why or why not?

AT: I don’t really like drawing male characters. I’m also not very good at it, so I’d rather look at and watch male characters doing their thing. The first time I started drawing male characters was when I was around thirteen, but I’m still not confident in my drawing of male characters. But now that I’m growing more, I want to try to draw male characters.

AF: When I was in school, I had a lot of friends who liked Takuto from Full Moon. He was very popular.

AT: He’s also very popular in Japan. Usually my characters are all girls, and usually everyone really likes my girls but not so much my male characters. Takuto was the first male character who got so popular, he overcame one of the places of the girl characters.

AF: It’s because he’s sad.

AT: *laughs*

A close-up of a teen boy and girl, apparently lying down next to each other. The boy has one finger looped around the girl's necklace and is leaning towards her; the girl has one hand reaching out and brushing the collar of his shirt. Both look quietly sad.
Takuto from Full Moon, looking sad

AF: When did you make your debut?

AT: When I was 18 years old, in 1996.

AF: I really like 90’s shoujo manga. What kind of manga that was coming out then did you enjoy reading?

AT: Revolutionary Girl Utena. That was right around when I made my debut.

AF: Oh, that’s one of my favorite anime ever!

AT: It’s also my favorite anime.

AF: Do you think what the trends were at the time influenced your storytelling?

AT: I wasn’t influenced so much about what was coming out around that time. It’s more like my childhood series like Tokimeki Tonight or Chibi Maruko-chan. The gag and comedy types were more influential in my work.

AF: Do you think the kinds of stories that are being told in shoujo manga have changed since around that time?

AT: I don’t think it’s really changed that much since when I debuted. Even though it hasn’t really changed much in Japan… Instead of fantasy and magical girl stories, it’s more real life type of stories now. It’s getting more popular now, not just in movies but also in shoujo manga.

 

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  • Gorion

    Very cool! Always interesting to see the creators’ thoughts.

    For those who haven’t heard of it, Full Moon wo Sagashite is a hidden gem of a show. It’s the only shoujo anime I’ve watched from start to finish.